It occurred to me that probably the first question anyone would have stumbling on this blog is “Why on earth is it called ‘Ginger Armory’?” Most people can probably figure out that I might be a redhead, but what has that got to do with EVE or Elder Scrolls, or gaming in general?
Well, nothing really. I couldn’t come up with a blog title though, that nicely meshed those 2 very different games together. Everything I thought of sounded terribly cheesy. So, I just went with the fact that A) I’m a redhead, and possibly a little inordinately proud of my genetics (I have the pale skin, freckles, and easy sunburn to go with it) and B) I absolutely love redheaded females, and C) an “armory” is nice and general, and can be found in futuristic, modern, and primitive settings.
Now, every so often on gaming forums (whether those specific to a particular game, or a forum about games in general) someone will want to know why males play female characters. In some cases the person seems honestly curious; in other cases the questioner loads it down with a presumption that there must be something wrong with this form of “cross-dressing” as they put it.
There has, lately, also been somewhat of a stink about females being supposedly treated as “sex objects” in games, and a series of videos from Anita Sarkeesian about this “trend” or whatever she calls it. This isn’t a political blog. However, I have no intention of shying away from political issues where they touch on gaming, and the fact is that gender issues seem to be touching gaming a lot recently.
With that in mind, there’s two related, but distinct issues here. First off, why do males want to play female characters?
Well, I imagine that there are a lot of answers to that, and in a few cases there might be something of concern there, but for the most part I think a lot of it is that A) we like looking at a female avatar and B) female characters make the world more interesting.
In the first case, that population of forum nimrods that really worries about males playing female avatars invariably wants to know why we find “pixels” attractive. Well, because they’re arranged to look like an attractive female. If someone complains that some spaceship in EVE (such as the pre-Kronos Moa) looks ugly, no one talks about “but why do you find pixel spaceships ugly?” No one would ever wonder why people might admire a female (or for that matter male) painting or sculpture was beautiful. Note that I didn’t say “sexy”; I said “beautiful” and “attractive”. We are often lectured, especially as children and teenagers, that we should be able to appreciate the beauty of the human form without thinking of it sexually. Believe it or not, we often DO.. yes, even males. Sexiness and sexuality are a component of this, but they are not the whole thing. I like my female characters to look like adventurers – dressed practically, strong and athletic; not thin, waifish, and half-naked, and I am not the only male, nor part of a rare minority that likes this. I like real-life women who look strong and athletic as well. My Elder Scrolls Nord Dragonknight is a redheaded female who is as tall and muscular as I could make her, and looks like she might be captain of a woman’s basketball team on earth, with her hair in a conservative bun so it stays out of the way in a fight; not hanging all over the place where an enemy could grab it (or rather, could if the game allowed that sort of thing).
Strangely, women almost NEVER play male characters. My daughter has played male characters in WoW, but she is literally the only female I know that has done so. But because of the imbalance of male and female players, male characters playing females is necessary to make the world seem interesting in the way that modern, egalitarian society wants. Female protagonists in science fiction and fantasy are just as enjoyable as males. Honor Harrington comes to mind. In order for there to be enough females in an MMO, many have to be played by males.
Playing a female character does not say anything about a man’s sexuality or tendencies any more than playing a dwarf or an orc does. It’s a simple matter of, for whatever reason, taking the opportunity to step into a body other than your own. This might involve a certain amount of curiosity about what it’s like to have different plumbing as well, but why are we treating that curiosity as something weird or disturbed? People wonder about things.
This brings me to my next topic – Anita and her worries about “damsels in distress” and the complaints from people that agree with her about women being “sex objects” and the like.
This complaint is problematic for a few reasons. First, rescuing, protecting, and helping people in distress is perfectly valid game fodder; it doesn’t suddenly become “sexist” when the person being helped is a female. Endless MMO quests involve rescues of all sorts of townsfolk, stranded starship passengers and crew, captured people of every description, and so forth. Huge numbers of these are male, and Anita, in her rush to focus on the anecdotal misses this – to say nothing of the fact that the character doing the rescuing might well be female in many games.
Second, while impractical female armor and overly sexy bodies are common, practical female armors are also common. Male revealing armor is not unknown either, and excessively bulked-out males are also a staple of many games. The situation is nowhere near as uneven as Anita and her followers would like to pretend.
Third, the simple fact is that games are fantasy. Males like feeling tough and powerful in games, and seeing attractive females, often in a fantasy-ish sort of way. Women like to feel attractive to men. For that matter, males like to feel attractive to females, and females like attractive men, as well. People are what they are, and we don’t need to filter out plays to our sexual nature from our entertainment.
The disturbing underlying implication of this is that males need to turn off their sex drives and sexuality to make women feel safe from being noticed by them – and that women should not be given the option to do what they think men will find attractive. This is present in the vast majority of complaints about “sexual objectification” throughout society – the idea that because someone is being seen sexually, that they are being made into a sex object by the viewer. Male sexuality is seen as aggressive and dangerous, and to be controlled by not allowing women to be too sexy. In real life, this ends up with women in burquas.
There is, of course, a valid concern about harassment and stalking in games, but it is not limited to males stalking or harassing females, and it is not caused by sexy female avatars, any more than short skirts cause (or justify) rape in real life.
We don’t need this kind of authoritarianism in video games. The gaming community and game publishers should publish games as gamers want them. That means some games will look like Elder Scrolls with sensible female and male dress, some will be skin-fests, some (like WoW) will have a mix of the ridiculously-sexual with the well-covered (anyone who doesn’t think this is in WoW need only check out the starting outfit for a female death knight) and some, like EVE, where the avatar is a mere afterthought. We do not need people like Anita Sarkeesian looking for an easy backdoor into academia by writing a thesis about underwear in video games because she doesn’t want to enter a field that has actual standards of scientific merit, and thereby imposing a dress code on imagination.